I grew up in church, so I learned that when you end a prayer, you say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” It didn’t matter what we were praying for – health, security, God’s presence, others’ prosperity, traveling mercies and hedges of protection* – at the end of the prayer, you had to say “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
No one ever explicitly taught me I had to end my prayer with “in Jesus’ name, Amen” – that’s not a week in Prayer 101 or anything. I learned it by listening to everyone pray. My parents, my Sunday School teachers, all the pastors. When I visited my grandparents’ churches, everyone did it there, too.
It didn’t occur to me until I was much older to wonder why we end our prayers with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The straightforward answer is that Jesus tells us to. In John 14, he says,
You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! – John 14:13-14 (NLT)
Ending our prayers with “in Jesus’ name” is our way of taking Jesus’ words seriously: we want to ask in his name. But that still begs the question:
The language comes to us from the ancient preliterate world, where official transactions were conducted verbally. In a world without legal documents, a person’s reputation was social capital. This reputation was referred to as a person’s name. Wealthy and powerful persons – particularly kings – who conducted trade and made treaties through functionaries, sent those servants to speak “in their name”.
To speak “in the name” of the king meant that the messengers words should be considered the very words of the king himself.
To pray “in Jesus’ name” means to pray the way Jesus, our king, would pray.
That understanding should radically reshape our approach to prayer. As we approach prayer, we should consider not only our own needs and desires, but also whether those desires are aligned with Jesus’ way.
Mark Roberts describes what this looks like over at Patheos:
If we are to pray in Jesus’ name, then this means our prayers should reflect Jesus’ own values and purposes. Our prayers should be imbued with the kingdom agenda of Jesus.
How often do my prayers reflect Jesus’ agenda? Not nearly as often as they reflect my own. Stopping to consider if my prayers really are “in Jesus’ name” is a helpful exercise. (And of course if we want to know how Jesus would pray, he told us!)
But what about “Amen”? Why stick that on the end?
“Amen” is a Greek word that means “truth”. To say “Amen” is to say “That’s true.” or “I agree.” It’s meant to be something said in response to a prayer, by those listening. A way to say, “I agree with that prayer.”
Over the past several years, I’ve made a habit out of not ending my public prayers with “Amen”. The lack of the traditional ending creates a slightly awkward space that encourages those listening to respond.